Font Size:  

“I understand you had a chat with Rosalind Aria at the ball.”

The anger and humiliation caused by Rosalind’s revelation came flooding back, and Jayna struggled to keep her voice even. “I did. It’s thanks to her that I realized Sid was a creepy stalker who used her aggregators to track me down.”

Emmaline’s face darkened. “Obsidian is not a ‘creepy stalker.’”

“Of course, he is!” Jayna shot back. “He bought an entire theme park just to get access to me! He conveniently appeared backstage when I was alone after the show so he could help me change. Then he got my boyfriend transferred to Rotterdam, so we’d break up and I’d have no choice but to travel with him halfway around the world. The clothes, the gifts, the ball—all of it was part of his evil plan to get me to fall for him. And I…” Her voice broke, and she fought back tears of fury and humiliation. “I was so stupid that it almost worked.”

Emmaline shook her head. “That’s not the way it happened,” she said softly, and held up a hand to stop Jayna’s objection. “Obsidian did hire Rosalind, but only to run a basic compatibility assessment on you—and he didn’t do that until the day of the Merathlon. Because by then he had already fallen for you.”

Jayna’s brow furrowed as she processed Emmaline’s words. Could she possibly have misunderstood? Part of her wanted to believe she had misjudged him.

But that was ridiculous, and she knew it. “She may have been drunk, but Rosalind was very clear: Sid and I were together because her aggregators did some kind of worldwide search and came to the conclusion that I was his perfect match.”

Emmaline took a deep breath, and worry creased her face. “That part actually is true. But it wasn’t Sid who hired Rosalind to find him a match. It was me.”

The room swayed, and Jayna gripped the table for support. “You hired Rosalind to find me?”

Emmaline lowered her eyes and nodded. “We’ve used Rosalind’s aggregators for years. When she mentioned one that could match people using public data, I was curious to see if it might work for Sid.”

Jayna was incredulous. Her life had been turned upside-down because Emmaline decided to use an untested algorithm to play matchmaker. It took every gram of control she had to keep her voice level. “Well, I think it’s fair to say that algorithm is nothing but bull shark. There must be several million eligible women in the world who would be a better match for Sid.”

Emmaline shook her head. “I don’t believe the aggregators failed. There was definitely something between the two of you. I know Sid felt something special for you, and I think if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll admit that you did, too.”

Jayna had felt something. She’d thought she might even be in love with him.

But his obsession with his reputation and the Cerulean Order and the way he accused her of sneaking off with Kalani all made her realize that Sid was just another controlling, manipulative jerk, and this whole week had been one huge mistake. “It doesn’t matter even if there was an attraction. Seriously, Emmaline, there is no way the two of us could ever be together. We are from different worlds. He will never accept me for who I am, and he will always be trying to change me into someone that I’m not. And I can’t live like that.”

Jayna pushed herself back from the table and stood up. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a plane to catch.”

Chapter 37

With a heavy heart, Jayna made her way through the terminal. It should have been a triumphal return home as Merathlon champion and freshly minted minor celebrity.

Instead, it felt like a walk of shame.

Bright, cheery colors throughout the airport contrasted sharply with her dark, sour mood. The airport was full of tourists, all smiles and laughter at the end of their wonderful Manutai holiday.

Jayna hated them.

As she approached her boarding gate, the growing crowd threatened to overwhelm her. Too many people. Too much noise. Too much chaos.

Too much happiness and joy for a bitter, heartbroken mermaid.

A woman in a bright purple floral dress and nametag bearing the Pasifika Airline logo approached her. “Jayna Cooper?” she said.

Jayna nodded warily, uncertain if this woman’s recognition of her was simply professional or if she had seen the streams of her meltdown at the Jubilee ball.

The woman had a medium build and deep brown eyes. Her curly black hair was cut short, and her bright friendly smile looked genuine. She gestured to a door at the edge of the waiting area. “Follow me, please.”

To her surprise, the woman escorted her past the other passengers and directly onto the jetway. Jayna hesitated. Her last-minute ticket purchase came with end-of-the-line boarding.

The agent turned and beckoned. “This way, please.”

Jayna had never traveled on one of the massive intercontinental flying wings before. She looked around in awe as she stepped onto the plane. The cabin was enormous, with a high ceiling and wide rows of seating that narrowed towards the front and looked more like a small theater than the interior of an aircraft.

Jayna had booked a seat near the back, as it was one of the only spots available. But the attendant led her to the front of the plane and opened a small door. “Here we are. Suite 4.”

Confused, Jayna pulled up her flight confirmation. “I don’t have a suite. I’m in seat T-19.”